“What is unfortunate for the Arab and Maghreb countries is that their interpretation of secularism has been based on the French model, which is a “Jacobin” model of imposing a kind of irreligiousness,” Gül told the Christian Science Monitor during his visit to the US, published on Tuesday.
Gül said when one speaks of secularism to Muslim communities of the region, it is misunderstood because of this French implication.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which was successful in marrying Islam and democracy, has become a model for much of the Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and other political groups such as Tunisia’s long banned Ennahda movement, as they are preparing to drive their countries to democracy from the ashes of decades-old rule in Egypt and Tunisia that were ended earlier last year.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke about secularism in Egypt in September last year during his landmark visit, saying Turkey prefers a model of secularism that is not identical to the “Anglo-Saxon or Western model,” without elaborating. “Individuals cannot be secular, states are. A devout Muslim can successfully govern a secular state,” Erdoğan then said.
Erdoğan’s remarks caused outrage among some circles in Egypt and he later said his remarks on secularism were mistranslated.
Erdoğan, while speaking in Tunisia about secularism after his visit in Egypt, said his “secularism” term was translated as “irreligiousness” in Egypt that caused a confusion among Arabs. He offered an explanation for the Muslim Brotherhood's anger at his words in Cairo and said his words were misunderstood because of a translation mistake.
Asked about his secularism remarks in Libya during his Arab Spring tour, Erdoğan said that secularism is not about being an enemy of religion.
Gül said in the interview that in practice, the implementation of secularism in the Arab and Maghreb countries has meant fighting against Islam in the name of secularism.
“So, we have to understand this sensitivity,” Gül underlined.
Turkish president added that using the Anglo-Saxon interpretation of secularism, as practiced in the United States or the United Kingdom, it is something that people should feel comfortable with. He said all it means is a separation of the state and religion, of the state maintaining the same distance from all religions and acting as the custodian for all beliefs. He argued that it is based on respect for all faiths and the coexistence of plural beliefs.
“I can tell you from my conversations with the leaders in Egypt or Tunisia, including those with a religious identity, that they are very open-minded and comfortable with this Anglo-Saxon sense of secular government,” Gül said.
Turkish president added that those leaders understand that what “we are doing in Turkey is focusing on fundamental freedoms.”
He said freedom to practice one’s own religion is one of the most fundamental of freedoms.
“We are lifting the barriers, that’s all.”